TORONTO (Reuters) - Toronto’s College Street bar district has seen its share of late-night fights, but a recent scrap was a bit out of the ordinary, as a financial journalist in a ‘50s housewife get-up tried to wallop the daylights out of a 35-year-old part-time waitress — using a pillow.
The crowd of nearly 500 did little to interfere, as they had paid to be there.
Welcome to the Pillow Fight League, which has been drawing growing crowds in Toronto since it formed early last year, and is now set to export its campy fun to New York City.
The league is the brainchild of 38-year-old Stacey Case, a T-shirt printer and musician who came up with the idea that people would pay to see young women in costumes beat the tar out of each other with pillows — and that women would volunteer to whap each other in front of a crowd.
The seeds of the idea came from a New Year’s Eve show Case’s band played in a Toronto bar just over a year ago. As a local burlesque troupe entertained the crowd by staging a mock pillow fight, they were shocked when women from the audience came forward looking to join the battle.
“It was really, really fun, and really funny that they were actually fighting for real. I woke up the next day, and I was like, “Oh my God, that was awesome,” he said.
A few ads in a local newspaper later, and Case and some friends were booking events at local bars. Now they have a stable of 22 dedicated fighters, a growing fan base, and ambitions of turning the PFL into something bigger.
However, they’re quick to point out it’s not really just about young women in revealing costumes tussling in front of a largely male audience. Well, maybe it is a bit.
“People all have a conception in their head of what a pillow fight is all about,” says Don “The Mouth” Lovranski, Case’s co-investor and the big-voiced announcer for the shows.
“When they come to it, though, they see it’s not hot blonds in negligees; the fights are real, and there’s some fun to it. I think that’s what the appeal is.”
Case himself is league commissioner, a role that becomes part caricature once the ring lights brighten and the pillows come out. As the boss, he has to play the heel. Another cohort, Matt Harsant, becomes Matt Patterson, a throwback-style referee complete with a bow-tie and limited patience.
But it’s the fighters that make the show, and they come in all shapes and sizes, with names like Sarah Bellum, the smart one, and Boozy Suzie, who enters the ring with a beer that referee Patterson confiscates with a stern wave of his finger.
Lynn Somnia staggers to the ring in a hospital gown with electrodes dangling, apparently released from her sleep-deprivation chamber.
Top contenders include Betty Clock’er — by day a financial editor and by night a cushion-swinging housewife who brings a plate of cookies to ringside — and Polly Esther, billed as the waitress from hell (“And somebody’s gonna get served!”, The Mouth bellows as she struts toward the ring).
While the personas are all good fun, the action in the ring is real, and as Case is quick to point out, unscripted.
The rules are simple: women only, no lewd behavior, and moves such as leg drops or submission holds are allowed as long as a pillow is used. After that, it’s up to the combatants.
For the fighters, there’s a small stipend, and a chance of fame if the popularity of the league continues to grow. But it’s also a hobby, and maybe even has a therapeutic appeal for players like Polly Esther, who got her snarky waitress persona the hard way, during 20 years of waiting tables.
“All the people I’ve served over the years, the bad customers, the bad tips, Polly doesn’t take it.” she says. “She lashes out. She hates everybody, but she’s not going to leave her job.”
This past weekend, Polly didn’t disappoint, torquing her long arms to deliver punishing pillow blows to Betty Clock’er in a fight to decide who will travel to New York this week to face PFL title holder Champain, an event Case is hoping will give an adrenaline shot to the league’s profile.
The bigger picture involves a TV deal. Case says he has already turned down bids that didn’t offer the mix of attention to the action and characters that he says makes the league more of a draw to the arts community than the mud-wrestling crowd.
The scene this past Friday would seem to bear him out, as the nearly 500 screaming fans looked more like an art-house movie crowd than a boxing audience.
The cheers reach a crescendo as Betty Clock’er fights off Polly Esther’s roundhouse hits, then unleashes a well executed pillow-leg takedown and pins Esther for the three-count.
“I’m prepared for it to tank,” says Case. “But I hope it doesn’t.”